Town of Varadero
Playa Azul (Blue Beach)
The former Varadero municipality (red) within
Matanzas Province (yellow) and Cuba.
The rest of Cárdenas municipality is shown in orange
|Founded||December 5, 1887|
|Established||July 3, 1976 (Municipality)|
|• Total||48 km2 (19 sq mi)|
|Elevation||4 m (13 ft)|
|• Density||566.0/km2 (1,466/sq mi)|
|Time zone||UTC-5 (EST)|
Varadero (Spanish pronunciation: [baɾaˈðeɾo]), also referred to as Playa Azul (Blue Beach), is a resort town in the province of Matanzas, Cuba, and one of the largest resort areas in the Caribbean. Matanzas is named after the massacre (matanza) of Spaniards by Indians in 1510. In 2019 Varadero Beach was rated one of the world's best beaches in Trip Advisor's Traveler's Choice Awards, ranking at number two. Common activities include fishing and excursions to Matanzas, Cárdenas, and the Península de Zapata.
Varadero is a two hour drive east of central Havana. It is situated on the Hicacos Peninsula, between the Bay of Cárdenas and the Straits of Florida, some 140 km east of Havana, at the eastern end of the Via Blanca highway. The peninsula is only 1.2 km wide at its widest point and is separated from the island of Cuba by the Kawama Channel. This beautiful elongated island separated from the mainland by the Laguna Paso Malo. This spit of land however extends more than 20 kilometers from the mainland in a northeasterly direction and its tip, Punta Hicacos, is the northernmost point of the island of Cuba. Varadero’s town has three longitudinal avenues that are intersected by 69 cross streets. At the northeastern end of the peninsula there is a nature reserve with virgin forests and beaches. The Hicacos Point Natural Park is a 3.12 km2 (1.20 sq mi) ecological preserve established in 1974. It contains the 250 m (820 ft) long Cave of Ambrosio, Mangón Lake (home to 31 species of birds and 24 species of reptiles) and the ruins of the La Calavera (The Skull) Salt Works (one of the first salt works to be constructed by the Spanish in the New World). The cays developed off shore, such as Cayo Piedras and Cayo Cruz del Padre are the westernmost part of the Sabana-Camaguey Archipelago.
Juan Gualberto Gómez Airport, located 16 kilometers west of Varadero and situated west of the peninsula, is Varadero's airport. It is the second-most-important airport of the island after José Martí Airport in Havana, and serves international and domestic flights. It was finished in the 1990s and replaced the old Varadero airport.
Havana and Varadero each have the greatest development in Cuba. Foreign investments have contributed to the history of tourism in these two important areas. In 1990 the number of tourists visiting was around 327,000, by 2000 the number went up to just under 1.8 million. Fifty five percent of these visitors come from Europe. Varadero generates and provides over 500,00 jobs with over 52 hotel facilities. Canada’s Blue Island and Spain’s Meliá, Iberostar and Globalia are some of the foreign companies that operate these hotels.
Cuba’s source of income is largely generated by tourism. Plans for the next three years[specify] are in the works to build at least 3,000 more rooms in five-star hotels. These companies plan on adding a theme park, shopping mall, and a golf club with a new hotel. They plan to bring back a Cuban classic, Festival de la Cancion, which in 1970 was a musical festival that brought international stars. In 2016 with more than 4 million visitors the island earned $3.5 billion. As of 2018 more than 4.7 million foreign tourists came to this Caribbean island. It is estimated that for 2019 the numbers will increase to 5.1 million visitors.
The economy also depends heavily on sugarcane crops since the 18th century. Other main crops are rice, citrus fruits, potatoes, plantains and bananas, cassava, tomatoes, and corn. Tobacco is the second most important crop the island exports. Coffee is another important crop which is grown in the mountains of eastern Cuba.
The climate in Varadero is tropical weather, as it is at the tip of the island. Weather may change due to many factors such as exposure to hurricanes, windy tropical storms and by the cooling effect of the trade winds. It is surrounded by enormous bodies of water that can cool air flowing from North America. The yearly mean is 25˚ Celsius (77 ˚F). Summer mean is 27˚Celsius (80.6 ˚F), while winter mean is 21˚C (69.8 ˚F). Humidity is 81% and the average yearly rainfall is roughly 1,400 millimeters (55 inches). June 1st is the beginning of hurricane season and normally ends November 15th. October and September are the targeted months when hurricanes are more likely to occur.
Over 150 hurricanes have gone through the country of Cuba since 1498, when Christopher Columbus first recorded them. The impact of these hurricanes has hit the economy with widespread damage and claiming many Cuban lives. These tropical cyclones can carry winds up to 120 kilometers (75 miles) per hour. One of the worst hurricanes came in 1791 and an estimated 3,000 Cubans died. The most recent, Hurricane Irma, hit Varadero on September 8, 2017. Irma claimed 10 Cuban lives, it caused major flooding and wind damage. Irma was labeled a category 5 storm when it hit landfall in Cuba. Meteorologists reported this hurricane as one of the biggest in the Atlantic and the strong winds were reported at 125 mph. Irma ripped many trees from the ground and roofs from homes. Much of Varadero was damaged along with the country’s agricultural main crops such as sugar.
Varadero was mentioned for the first time in 1555. The place was first used as a dry dock (Spanish: varadero) and the salt mines of the peninsula (closed in 1961) supplied most of the Spanish Latin America Fleet since 1587. However, the foundation date of Varadero as city was only on December 5, 1887, when ten families from the city of Cárdenas obtained a permission to build their vacation homes between today's 42nd and 48th Street. Varadero village came about in the 1880s as a summer resort. The first homes with red-roof’s made of wood can still be seen along Avenida 1ra.
It was established as municipality (Spanish: municipio) at the administrative re-distribution of July 3, 1976 from territories previously part of Cárdenas. In August 2010, the Varadero municipality was abolished according to a Law approved by the Cuban National Assembly, becoming again part of the Cárdenas municipality.
Varadero is known as a tourist resort town, with more than 20 km of white sandy beaches. The first tourists visited Varadero as early as the 1870s, and for years it was considered an elite resort. In 1910 the annual rowing regatta was started; five years later the first hotel, named Varadero, which later was renamed as Club Nautico, was built. Tourism grew in the early 1930s as Irénée du Pont, an American millionaire, built his estate on the peninsula (now Maison Xanadu or DuPont House). People who have stayed in the area includes Al Capone.
After the Cuban Revolution in 1959, many mansions were expropriated from their rich owners. These mansions soon became museums. As a symbol of the new integrated tourism for Cubans and foreign visitors of all social classes, the Park of the 8000 Cubicles (Parque de las 8000 Taquillas) was built in 1960. Visitors could leave their belongings in the basement of the park, had access to sanitary installations and gastronomic services on the first floor, and could rent bathing articles and swimsuits. The surroundings of the park became the center of the city.
Between the 1960s and 1980s Varadero transformed itself into a cultural centre. During those years the central park (8000 Taquillas) (located between 44th and 46th Street) saw countless concerts, festivals and sporting events.
The 1990s brought the start of another hotel building campaign, mostly in the 4-star and 5-star segment. Many of the hotels are operated or co-owned by foreign businesses like Meliá, Barceló, TRYP, etc. (France's Club Med used to have a property but has since left Varadero.) As international tourism was opened up, the local population expanded with the arrival of people, some in key economic positions, from other parts of Cuba. As a consequence, Varadero has lost much of its social and cultural life and its traditions. The central park, the cinema and various cultural meeting places were neglected in favor of a hotel-centred all-inclusive-tourism and finally closed. The International Carnival, an initiative of Cubans and foreigners started in the 1980s, also ceased.
In addition to the beach, Varadero has natural attractions such as caves and a chain of easily accessed virgin cays. There are also cultural, historical and environmental attractions in the vicinity, such as the cities of Matanzas and Cárdenas, the Zapata Peninsula and the resort of San Miguel de los Baños. Varadero, which is a free port, also possesses facilities for scuba diving, deep-sea fishing, yachting and other water sports.
Varadero receives more than 1 million tourists annually.
Varadero is primarily visited by European and Canadian tourists. The number of U.S. tourists visiting Varadero, although increasing, has been limited because of the U.S. government restrictions that make it difficult for U.S. citizens to visit Cuba as tourists. Varadero is home to one of two Canadian Consulates in Cuba. On June 5th 2019 the Trump Administration put new restrictions in place for American citizens to visit the island. The U.S Department of Treasury released a statement that bans cruise ships to stop in Cuba as well. Tour companies and many main cruise lines such as Norwegian, Royal Caribbean, and Carnival have been affected with these changes.
Activities and Attractions
Varadero hotels offer catamaran cruises with snorkeling and a visit to the dolphin center, Delfinario, a coral-rimmed lagoon located 400 meters east of Marina Chapelín. Swimming and interacting with the dolphins along with dolphin shows are available here. Hotels can also supply kayaks or small boats for their guests. Fishing charts are available at Marlin Náutica y Marinas at Marina Chapelin. They also have sailboards and kiteboards.
Scuba diving is another attraction in Varadero. There are more than 30 dive sites, such as Parque Marino Cayo Piedras del Norte, where divers can view a sunken military vessel and a soviet military AN-24 aircraft, and Ojo de Mégano, which has an underwater cave east of Varadero.
Events and festivals
- Every year in the month of June Varadero hosts the World Music Festival. Artists come to perform from different parts of Latin America. Concerts and open air shows happen in different places of Varadero.
- Varadero Gourmet Festival is held annually between April and June, an opportunity to come taste and sample delicious Cuban food. You can taste different Cuban cuisines from famous chefs.
- A five-day event that is held every February in Varadero, comes from the motorcyclists from Harlistas Cubanas, which are Harley-Davidson bikes.
- Varadero hosts the Melia Golf Club Cup event, held annually on the third week of October. In late October it's followed by Los Cactus Varadero Golf Tournament, a two-day tournament held at Hotel Los Cactus at Varadero Golf Club.
Sights and Landmarks
- Mansión Xanadu is hotel and restaurant that was formerly a three-story mansion built by an American millionaire, Alfred Irénée Dunpont de Nemours. Construction on this mansion cost Dunpont $338,000. After the revolution in 1959, Dupont escaped Cuba and left the villa to the Cuban government. In 1963 it was named “Las Américas”, converting it to a luxury restaurant that served French cuisines. The dining room still has original furniture.
- Parque Retiro Josone, located on Avenida Primera y Calle 56, was established in 1942 by José Iturrioz, the owner of the Arrechabala Ronera which is the rum factory just outside Cárdenas.
- The Museo Municipal de Varadero located on Calle 57. Furniture and history are displayed in what used to be Leopoldo Abreu’s summer home in the 1920s.
- Santa Elvira Church, a structure built from stones and wood, is a Catholic church that dates back to 1938. A horseshoe half-arch that ends with a cross located at the top serves as the bell tower.
- Reserva Ecológico Varahicacos is located at the island’s east end of the peninsula near Punta Hicacos and provides 730 acres, which has long trails that lead to different caves. Cueva Ambrosio, discovered in the 1960s has Indian drawings along with 47 pre-Columbian symbols that are more than 3,000 years old. Cueva de los Musulmanes (Cave of Muslims) is located on a second trail. It was once used as an indigenous tomb. 
In 2007, the municipality of Varadero had a population of about 20,000 between the Hicacos peninsula (7,000) and the two incorporated localities of Santa Marta and Boca de Camarioca. With a total area of 32 km2 (12 sq mi), it has a population density of 771.3/km2 (1,998/sq mi). Starting from January 2011, the Varadero municipality was abolished and incorporated into the neighbor municipality of Cardenas. Therefore, Varadero is now only acknowledged as the region in the Hicacos peninsula, properly the beach area. Many of the workers in the tourist sector commute in from Cardenas.
- José Miranda (b. 1986), Cuban born US footballer
- Leonel "Bebito" Smith (1909–2000), swimmer
- Alain Flores (b. 1976), US Entrepreneur and Technology Executive
- J.R. Ramirez (b. 1980), Cuban born Actor
- Amalia Aguilar (b. 1924), Cuban born Mexican Actress and Dancer
Main road is Autopista Sur, which begins before crossing the bridge over Laguna Paso Malo and ends 19.4 kilometres (12.1 mi) at a cul de sac at Barceló Marina Palace. Traffic from Vía Blanca and Carretera a into the Barceló Marina Palace merges into Varadero on this road near Kawama Airport. The paved highway has two lanes in both directions for most of the route, but a portion is closed off reducing it to only a single lane in each direction. Side roads cross this road as regular intersections with only a partial cloverleaf at Laguna Paso Malo.
The main street is Avenida Primera (1ra) and runs along the oceanfront from Calle 8 in the west to Calle 64 in the East. In the Kawama suburb cross streets begin at Calle 1 and run eastward to Calle 64. Farther east the streets become lettered beginning with Calle A to L. Between Calles 23 and 54 you will find the old village. 
There are several bus operators, some providing connections from resorts to town and others as public transit operators within the main town.
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